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Burrata cheese is an Italian specialty cheese which was developed in the 1920s. Although the cheese remained largely confined to Italy in the 20th century, in the late 1990s, cheese fans in other regions of the world started cultivating an interest in burrata, and today it is available in many specialty shops and restaurants. Some people maintain that the best burrata cheese still comes from Italy, although some cheesemakers may disagree.
This cheese is derived from mozzarella, a fresh Italian cheese which is fairly well-known. To make mozzarella, cheesemakers add rennet to milk to curdle it, and then they plunge the curds into a hot water bath and knead them, creating glossy strings of cheese which can be molded into a variety of shapes. When cheesemakers create burrata, they make mozzarella and then shape it into a pocket, stuffing scraps of mozzarella into the pocket along with some cream, and then packing the cheese into a ball. It has been suggested that this cheese was probably developed as a way to use up scraps of cheese.
The outer layers of burrata cheese are resilient, glossy, and mildly flavored. The inside is rich, soft, and creamy, with an almost buttery texture and flavor; hence the name, because “burrata” means “buttered” in Italian. Many people serve this cheese whole, sometimes warming it slightly first and offering things like prosciutto or lightly-dressed arugula on the side on the side to bring out the natural flavors in the cheese. It can also be grilled, eaten straight, or tossed with salads and pasta, among other things.
Traditional mozzarella and burrata cheese are made from buffalo milk, a product which has been used in cheesemaking in Italy since the 1400s. Buffalo milk cheeses are classically bright white, and they have a flavor which is different from that of cow's milk cheeses. While modern cheesemakers often use cow's milk instead, since it is more readily available, if buffalo's milk burrata can be obtained, it is well-worth a try.
Classically, burrata cheese was wrapped in asphodel leaves before being taken to market. Consumers could be assured that their cheese was fresh by checking the leaves; wilted or withered leaves indicated an older cheese, which would be less desirable. Due to concerns about hygiene, many producers are forced to wrap their cheese in plastic, but often a few leaves are decoratively attached, referencing the classic packaging.